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256             A SEARCH IN SECRET EGYPT
But Moussa merely smiled.
"Mahtshr he murmured. "No matter! The viper cannot hurt me. This is only a tooth-bite, not a fang-bite."
I was astounded.
"No snake is permitted to bite me with its poison fangs/* he added, "but sometimes I receive what is just a flesh-bite from its ordinary teeth. That has happened before and does not trouble me/*
Yes, it was true—the Sheikh was impervious to the reptile bite, however poisonous it was for others. And to prove his immunity Moussa forced the snake to open its mouth and then put his fingers immediately below its poison fangs. At any moment the reptile could, if it wished, bury those fangs into the skin of his fingers and kill him. Yet the tangs did not move and finally he withdrew his hand, unharmed.
The next day there was no inflammation and his wounded arm had half-healed.
People often quoted to me later cases of extracted fangs which they had seen. Though their care for truth was praiseworthy, to connect these examples with our cobras .would be to strain credulity to intolerable limits.
As for the two-year immunity which he claimed to have conferred upon me, I can say only that I handled deadly cobras and poisonous vipers several times, and even put them round my neck, yet they never once attacked me. I almost turned them into pets, so interested did I become in these mysterious creatures. Moussa warned me, however, that with reference to scorpions, the black-coloured variety were vicious and disobedient, and that my power might fail to overcome them; also that there was always a slight risk that even a snake of the same character might be encountered. He told me that I might recognize a dangerous snake should I encounter one, by first uttering the secret "Word of Power" before approaching it. If the snake ignored it and did not stop its movement, then it should be left untouched; such a snake might easily turn and kill one, as it was entirely vicious.
I received an unexpected opportunity to deal with a scorpion some time later, when I had parted from the Sheikh and was travelling still farther into Southern Egypt. I put in some time on research work at the magnificent old temple of Edfu, and took the trouble to drop down a hole in the floor of a small room near the sanctuary, as the steps had long since disappeared.